FCC must be given rights to regulate the Internet
Net neutrality is under attack in this country, and the repercussions for consumers could be serious. It’s time our nation’s legislators stepped up and resolved this issue by giving the Federal Communications Commission explicit authority to regulate the Internet.
Net neutrality, which ensures that all data transferred over the Internet is treated equally, has been challenged by Verizon. If net neutrality is eliminated, companies like Verizon and Comcast could throttle access to rival services like Netflix and YouTube or create Internet packages similar to cable TV, with more popular sites locked behind higher priced packages.
But Verizon said the Federal Communications Commission, which was created by Congress to regulate interstate and foreign communications by wire, television, satellite, cable and radio, does not have the authority to enforce the regulations and that the regulations are in violation of the First and Fifth Amendment rights. Verizon claims that the data it transfers constitutes speech so it should be entitled to editorial discretion.
What’s even more worrisome is that Verizon could very likely win its appeal if Congress fails to grant the FCC the ability to enforce neutrality on the Internet. Forbes columnist and Internet industry analyst Larry Downes has been actively involved in the net neutrality debate since 2005 and testified to the Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet after the FCC’s Open Internet order was announced.
“The FCC simply lacked the legal authority from Congress to pass the rules in [that] order,” Downes said.
Derek Bambauer, a UA professor of Internet law, sees validity in Verizon’s argument that the FCC is attempting to use a shortcut which is not supported by the law that creates the agency’s authority.
“The FCC might still have authority,” Bambauer said. “It would simply have to engage in the reclassification of broadband,” a lengthy process that would likely result in further court battles.
Organizations like NetCompetition would like to convince people that eliminating net neutrality would lower consumer costs and foster a competitive marketplace by allowing companies a greater range in their service offerings and pricing.
“Consumers would be able to pay less, not more, for broadband,” said Scott Cleland, writing for NetCompetition’s blog, “if consumers no longer were forced to shoulder the full broadband cost of Internet access by subsidizing the biggest edge companies like Netflix and Google-YouTube, which consume about half of the Internet’s peak traffic.”
Disregarding for a moment that the cable companies that provide the majority of Internet service in the United States, like Comcast and Time Warner, have already developed natural monopolies over millions of American households, NetCompetition’s argument is still absurd.
“The only way to characterize this argument is that it is idiotic,” Bambauer said. “There is already a two-sided market: Google pays its Internet access providers to provide it with bandwidth and to carry its traffic, so do users.” He also dismissed NetCompetition as, “a sock puppet for telecommunications companies.”
Cable monopolies are the real impediment to consumer choice. Many areas only have access to two or fewer broadband providers.
Students in the UA area can choose from either CenturyLink or Cox.
“And if we move from the FCC’s rather minimalist definition of broadband speeds to a criterion closer to the rest of the developed world,” Bambauer said, “many [will] face one provider at most [typically the local cable company].”
These court arguments are a waste of time that will make no real changes for consumers unless Congress decides to actually legislate.
If Congress cares about consumers at all, it would ignore the telecommunications lobbyists and simply grant the FCC the authority to regulate net neutrality. Then Congress can get to work on breaking up cable monopolies.
Max Weintraub is a senior studying creative writing and Italian studies. Follow him on Twitter.com/@mweintra13.